Miles White, Chairman and CEO of Abbott Laboratories recently wrote about the importance of drug patents for the future of medicine. He began by talking about a case settled by Abbott and the South American country of Brazil. Brazil felt that the price of Abbott’s AIDS medication Kaletra, the most widely used AIDS medication, was too high and patients could not afford it. They were threatening to break Abbott’s patent and produce a generic version locally in order to treat more patients. The two sides reached an agreement as Abbott agreed to significantly reduce the price per patient and the government agreed to honor the patent.
White points out that while this situation ended well for both parties involved, this issue should not be forgotten. He writes, “…we cannot let the agreement end discussion of the ideas involved; it is essential that we consider their implications so as to avoid situations that might not be so fortunately resolved. What hangs in the balance is how the world will continue to develop the medicines it needs.”
He also writes about the need for a balance to exist between innovation and access to medicine:
“The negotiation raised a well-worn chorus of criticisms of the patent system, but failed to address the underlying question: how would our society continue to progress without it? The problem is that our global needs and global systems are in conflict. This threatens to harm one goal, innovation, in the name of another, access to medicine. Access is the goal the world cares about and one taken seriously by innovator companies (those that conduct research and development of new medicines) that have made significant contributions to this end across the developing world – from building healthcare infrastructure in Africa, to drastic price cuts that have benefited a wide range of countries, including Brazil. But it must be recognized that access is inseparable from innovation: without access, innovation is meaningless; without innovation, there is nothing to have access to.”
White concludes by quoting President Abraham Lincoln, “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” The patent system exists so that innovation can continue. So scientists’ discoveries are protected.